Islamic Bayda Project 2017

By Micaela Sinibaldi

In October/November 2017 the Islamic Bayda Project has carried on its fourth season of archaeological excavations at Khirbet Bayda in Petra. The project, which I direct since its outset and is affiliated with the Council for British Research in the Levant, in season 2017 had a duration of 4 weeks.  The Islamic Bayda Project, part of a larger project, which I also lead, The Late Petra Project, is a project of excavations, surveys, conservation, training and community engagement.

In season 2017, we returned to the two mosques at the site, which are also the only two mosques ever excavated in Petra, therefore important witnesses of the Islamic-period settlement in Petra. After removing the backfill, we completed the study of Mosque 2 by studying in details its phasing and building style with the methodology of Archaeology of Standing Buildings (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Recording building styles and building phases in Mosque 2 (photo by Steven Meyer).

The building and its use included six different phases and it reused a former Nabataean columnaded structure; we also reconstructed that about 40 worshippers could be accommodated in it. The project is now fundraising for the complete conservation, protection and presentation to the public of the two mosques; solutions have been discussed with the local authorities for a potential development and an opening of the area to the public.

To make it possible for the public to see the Mosque details before its conservation, this season we took photos to create a 3D model reconstruction of this important structure, which will be made available to the public.

As for Mosque 1, this season more excavation along the southern wall has revealed more exciting discoveries: the mihrab was built directly on top of a former, most likely Nabataean, structure, which included a plastered water tank, consistent with the important, former Nabataean phase at the village. Moreover, remains of red-painted plaster were revealed not only on the side walls of the mihrab, but also on its floor and along the western wall of the mosque, an important find so far without known parallels locally, which shows that the whole mosque was probably largely decorated in this way (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Exposing remains of red-painted plaster in the mihrab of Mosque 1 (photo by Micaela Sinibaldi).

The project includes a study of the local, modern culture, acknowledging its importance for understanding the material culture analyzed by the excavation, which has a very long tradition locally. In 2016 the team focused on analyzing the local traditional architecture; in 2017 we have visited a tabun, a bread oven which we regularly find in the excavation of the site, to observe its preparation and functioning. A local family has agreed to let us assist to the process of use of the oven over two days (Fig. 3). The bread we had as soon as it was baked in the oven was, needless to say, absolutely delicious.

Fig. 3: Our visit at a tabun in Bayda (photo by Micaela Sinibaldi).

The Schools Day is an outreach initiative I organize every year in cooperation with the Petra Archaeological Park, but this time the day has been particularly engaging: I invited the children to try simplified versions of the archaeologists’ activities of excavation, survey, study of the architectural material and recording of the data. The day was so successful that a class from the girls’ primary school from Umm Sayun, hearing about the initiative, organized a surprise visit (Fig. 4)!

Fig. 4: The girls’ school of Umm Sayun visiting the site (photo by Shayma Taweel).

Visits at the site have been particularly numerous this season, especially because Mosque 1 was completely visible for the first time. We received visits by the staff of the Petra Archaeological Park and the Department of Antiquities, staff and scholars of the American Center of Oriental Research and the Hussein Bin Talal University and  we have also been much honoured by a surprise visit by Prof. Hugh Kennedy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5: The Islamic Bayda Project team, 2017 inside Mosque 2, during a visit of the staff of the Petra Archaeological Park (photo by Mohammed Eid Ammarin).

In addition to my core local team from Bayda, my team was very international this season: there were archaeology trainees from Jordan, the U.K., France and Australia. As always, being part of the Islamic Bayda Project included lots of barbecues under the stars and, of course, weekend visits to Petra, including a day trip to the Jabal Harun.

This year the project has launched a Facebook page.  Moreover, a video on the project’s activities and results is currently in preparation.  Finally, on 4 December, 2017, The Jordan Times published an article on the Islamic Bayda Project.

Islamic Bayda Project, Season 2016

By Micaela Sinibaldi

The third season of the Islamic Bayda Project took place from July to August 2016 and was again affiliated with the Council for British Research in the Levant. The Palestine Exploration Fund has generously co-funded the project since its first season; this support has been essential to reaching our important results.

This season, a larger team was in the field than in former years. In addition to a team of international and Jordanian volunteers, archaeology students from Cardiff University joined as part of their courses and trained in archaeological documentation and excavation. As usual, the project included local team members from the Ammarin tribe from Bayda, whose experience in excavating in Bayda from the former seasons was crucial to the team.

Fig. 1: The location of Islamic Bayda in relation to Petra, from the 1st edition of Jane Taylor’s Petra (London 1993).

This season was very exciting, as receiving funding for six weeks allowed the team to complete the excavation of Mosque 2, dated to the Late Islamic period, which we had started excavating in 2015. While in 2015 we had uncovered the mihrab (niche pointing to Mecca) of the mosque and its southern part, this season we uncovered the mosque entrance and its northern part. The good state of preservation allowed a detailed reconstruction of the architecture of the mosque. Particularly interesting was discovering that one of the arches supporting the roof had collapsed in such a way to allow reconstructing its height and curve, and therefore the height of the mosque. The evidence from this campaign confirmed the hypothesis that the mosque had been destroyed by an earthquake.

The team also carried on a survey of modern villages in the region and visited houses of the modern Ammarin village in Bayda and Dana and observed that there the construction techniques have many elements in common with the buildings excavated at Islamic Bayda. In addition to sampling organic material from selected stratigraphic units, we also took samples for micromorphological analysis of the stratigraphy. We also investigated parts of Mosque 1 and its relationship to the earlier phases, which had been detected in the 2015 season.

Fig. 2: The team practicing excavation and documentation in Mosque 1 (photo by Micaela Sinibaldi).

Fig. 3: Study of local building techniques at the nearby Ammarin village (photo by Sarah Elliott).

The project had numerous visits this season, as the news have been spreading about our important discovery: the first mosque ever excavated in Petra, and, moreover, in very good conditions of preservation. We had visitors from the Petra Park, the Department of Antiquities, the Hussein Bin Talal University in Petra, children from a workshop organized by the Petra National Trust, and a one-day visit by a team from the Council for British Research in the Levant, including Carol Palmer, the Director of the British Institute in Amman, and a group of staff and research fellows, who have helped with their expertise in advising on sampling for laboratory analysis. After the end of the season, a presentation on the Islamic Bayda Project was also part of a special day organized by the Council for British Research in the Levant on the cultural heritage in Bayda and the potential of involving its community in its promotion.

On our weekly day off, Friday, the team was as always free to relax and enjoy several well-deserved trips to Petra and other sites, like Aqaba, and camping weekends in the beautiful Petra region. Congratulations to the team for this excellent season which has allowed accomplishing all the original goals!

Fig. 4: Weekend trip to Dana Natural Reserve (photo by Micaela Sinibaldi).

Fig. 5: Presentation of the results from Mosque 2 to the local community (photo by Qais Tweissi).

The Islamic Bayda Project, Season 2015

The Archaeology of an Islamic-period village outside of the Petra valley

By Micaela Sinibaldi

When I had the opportunity to start a project at Bayda in 2014, I felt very fortunate. As an archaeologist who has now worked in Petra for the past 20 years on the subject of Medieval and Islamic-period settlements, I had realised that Bayda has a huge potential for understanding the largely neglected topic of settlement during the late historical phases of Petra. The best known sites of this period in Petra belong to the Crusader phases, which has always been the main focus of my research.  However, the region saw also uninterrupted settlement through the whole Islamic period. Islamic Bayda consists of a village with a long history of settlement, with a very significant phase belonging to the Late Islamic period.

The second season of the Islamic Bayda Project took place in Autumn 2015 and was affiliated with the Council for British Research in the Levant. The Palestine Exploration Fund has generously co-funded the project since its first season, and this support has been essential to the success of the fieldwork. This season I decided to invite an international team of experienced volunteers to participate, which has resulted in excellent results and a remarkable team spirit. As usual, the project included local team members from the Ammarin tribe from Bayda, some of whom were already experienced from the former season.

In 2014 the project focused on the excavation of a village habitation. This season the team focused on the analysis of the two mosques of the village. The aim was to document the architecture and building techniques of these two public buildings, which are rare examples of Islamic-period mosques in Petra. Excavations revealed that Mosque 1 had been built over a former building.  We were excited to find out that Mosque 2 was in very good condition, giving us an important opportunity for studying its architectural characteristics. We also continued to collect soil samples; these are destined for palaeobotanic analysis during the study season, as an aim of the project is to document daily life in the village. The plan for the next season is to finish excavating and recording these two important structures.

Team cleaning E. Wall, Mosque 1. (MS)

A new initiative, the Schools Day, was first launched in 2014, and it was repeated in 2015. With the important logistic cooperation of the Petra Archaeological Park, students from local schools have been invited to visit the site and learn more about its importance, about the job of the archaeologist, and about the destructive effects of looting the archaeological deposits. This season, I asked my team members to illustrate the results of the project, according to their  expertise. Visits at the site have included local authorities, including staff of the Petra Archaeological Park and the Department of Antiquities, and the Director of the American Center of Oriental Research, Dr. Barbara Porter. Among the themes discussed with the Petra Archaeological Park was the idea of working on a future plan for the valorization of the site and increased access to tourists.

Working at the site has been lots of fun this season. Work in the field involved two tea breaks in the shade of our tents where the team relaxed and exchanged the news of the day. I chose to base my team of volunteers within the Bayda community, which meant that in the morning we would arrive there in minutes and could just walk to the site in the afternoon to complete drawings, but also that we had opportunities to visit friends or receive their visits in the evenings.

Schools Day - visiting Mosque 1 (QT)

On our day off, Friday, the team was free to relax and enjoy Petra and the region. In Petra, the team visited the Jabal Harun, al-Habis castle and al-Deir, and we organised field trips to al-Wu’ayra castle and Shawbak castle. Every weekend we managed to camp outdoors, making tea, cooking and relaxing. Few things are as great as gathering around a fire under the stars after enjoying a stunning sunset!

Tea break! (MS)

(Image credits: Micaela Sinibaldi, Katleen Couchez, Ahmad Thaher, Qais Tweissi, Mahmoud Eid Ammarin).

The Islamic Bayda Project

By Micaela Sinibaldi

The Islamic Bayda Project, affiliated with Cardiff University, was launched in 2014. It is co-funded by the Barakat Trust and the Palestine Exploration Fund.

During this first season of excavations, we excavated some habitations of this Islamic-period agricultural village to collect evidence about daily life at the site.

The Islamic Bayda Project team, 2014

The Islamic Bayda Project team, 2014. From left to right: Mohammed Abdullah Ammarin; Siham Nawafle (Department of Antiquities of Jordan, Representative); Ahmad Ibrahim Ammarin; Heather Crowley (Cardiff University, PhD student); Micaela Sinibaldi (Cardiff University, project director); Ghassem Jibril Ammarin. Standing in the trench: Mohammed Eid Ammarin. Photo: Qais Tweissi.

Cleaning a surface of occupation in the habitation courtyard.

Cleaning a surface of occupation in the habitation courtyard. In this area, we found a tabun (bread oven), and another one was found in the other sector of the trench. Photo: Qais Tweissi.

The visit by the staff of the American Center of Oriental Research: Barbara Porter (ACOR Director) and Glenn Corbett (ACOR associate director) with Micaela Sinibaldi, project director.

The visit by the staff of the American Center of Oriental Research: Barbara Porter (ACOR Director) and Glenn Corbett (ACOR associate director) with Micaela Sinibaldi, project director. Photo: Heather Crowley.

Tea break.

Twice a day we have a break to enjoy (very) sweet, energizing Bedouin tea, which is prepared every time by a different team member. Photo: Qais Tweissi.

Team members relaxing after a long final day in the field, and all dressed up for the final dinner of the Islamic Bayda Project. For this occasion, we organized a barbecue in Bayda, where we grilled chicken and vegetables.

Team members relaxing after a long final day in the field, and all dressed up for the final dinner of the Islamic Bayda Project. For this occasion, we organized a barbecue in Bayda, where we grilled chicken and vegetables. Photo: Micaela Sinibaldi.

The project has also launched a new initiative, the Schools Day.  Organised in collaboration with the Petra Archaeological Park, this year the project invited girls from schools in Bayda, Umm Sayun and Wadi Mousa (Petra region) to join us at the site with their teachers. The main aim of this activity was to involve the local communities in our archaeological work at Bayda. On this occasion, the students were introduced to the main features of the site and the meaning of the archaeologist’s job. The damaging effects of looting on the archaeological record were also discussed.

The schools day at the Islamic Bayda Project: visit to the church.

The Schools Day at the Islamic Bayda Project: visit to the church, which was created by reusing a Nabataean-period structure. Photo: Qais Tweissi.

The schools day at the Islamic Bayda Project: visit to the mosque.

The Schools Day at the Islamic Bayda Project: visit to the remains of the mosque and discussion about the effects of looting on the archaeological site. Photo: Qais Tweissi.

The schools day at the Islamic Bayda Project: visit to the trench.

The Schools Day at the Islamic Bayda Project: visit to the trench and questions and answer session on the job of the archaeologist. Photo: Heather Crowley.

 

The Umm al-Biyara Project

By Piotr Bienkowski

The following images come from our early spring season of excavations on top of Umm al-Biyara in Jordan, in March-April 2014.

When the team arrived in Jordan to excavate, it was snowing! A couple of days later it was 30 degrees and nearly too hot to work...

When the team arrived in Jordan to excavate, it was snowing! A couple of days later it was 30 degrees and nearly too hot to work…

 

A German TV crew filming our work on Umm al-Biyara.

A German TV crew filming our work on Umm al-Biyara.

 

Our base on top of Umm al-Biyara is a cave – here we are cooking lunch on the fire outside the cave.

Our base on top of Umm al-Biyara is a cave – here we are cooking lunch on the fire outside the cave.

Extreme surveying... The Nabataean buildings on top of Umm al-Biyara are built on the very edge of the summit, making it tricky to survey them safely...

Extreme surveying… The Nabataean buildings on top of Umm al-Biyara are built on the very edge of the summit, making it tricky to survey them safely…